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Should 16-year-olds own cars? Most readers say no

TOM: Well, America has spoken!

RAY: Or at least some of America has spoken . . . about 16-year-olds and car ownership.

TOM: Some weeks ago, we got a letter from a 16-year-old named Sarah who wanted her own car. And it just so happened that I was getting the same haranguing from my 16-year old-son.

RAY: My brother, in his humble opinion (and he has a lot to be humble about), doesn't think a 16-year-old kid should have his or her own car. And he asked you for your opinion.

TOM: And here's what more than 5,000 of you said: By a margin of two to one, you're against the idea of a 16-year-old kid owning a car; 67 percent said it's a bad idea, 33 percent said it's a good idea.

RAY: When we look at different age groups, we see some variations. Of the "under-18s" who wrote to us, 81 percent were in favor of 16-year-olds owning cars. What a surprise, huh?

TOM: But when we look at the "over-65-year-olds," we find them split on the issue about 50-50.

So older folks are more open to the idea than the "parental" generation just below them.

RAY: Maybe they're softer touches with the grandkids? Or maybe they're realizing that life is pretty short and want the kids to have fun while they're young? We don't know.

TOM: Anyway, the pros and cons fell into a few basic categories. Those in favor of giving a kid a car cited the role of car ownership in teaching a kid responsibility.

RAY: Those against the idea cited the inherent irresponsibility of most 16-year-olds. They also mentioned safety, and the distraction from stuff like schoolwork.

RAY: Many of the specific arguments made are very interesting. Here are a couple of examples:

Dear Tom and Ray: I agree with Tom. As a teacher, I see too many teens who spend a lot of hours working to pay all of their car-related costs and falling behind in their class work. I think a car can wait. Also, teens have the highest accident rate around (that's whey the insurance rates are so high). As a parent with a soon-to-be-teen, I would rather take the time to get her where she needs to go safely than let her out on the road where she may be pressured by friends into taking unnecessary risks. I've been to several funerals for students who were inexperienced drivers, I don't want to go to any more! - Kristine

Dear Tom and Ray: I'd like to tell you what we have done. Knowing that most 16-year-old kids don't have any kind of credit, we floated a loan to our son. We purchased a car and worked out payments that he could afford, letting him choose 12, 18 or 24 months. We financed at the same rate a bank would have given him. What he could afford and what he wanted were worlds apart, but we felt we had a good plan. We agree to pay for his auto insurance and half of his car payment so long as he qualifies for the "Good Student Discount." This means he has to maintain a 3.0 average or higher. And if he falls behind in his payments, he is not allowed to borrow one of our cars for a date (and no self-respecting young lady would want to be seen in his rustbucket). Also, we don't have to worry about his car getting dinged up in parking lots. It can't look much worse! He may want something a little easier and a little flashier, but we think we're encouraging him to get good grades and budget his money. - Andrea

TOM: We'll print some more of these next week.

RAY: Hey! Do you think we milk this like Ann Landers is milking that "how we met" thing?

TOM: I hope so! Then we could just run these for the next 10 years and move to Tahiti! Ann Landers says there's a house for sale there right next to hers!